Interview with Les Rutherford. Three

Title

Interview with Les Rutherford. Three

Description

Les Rutherford joined the army and was in the 51st Highland Division which formed the rear-guard defence, allowing for the evacuation of Dunkirk. He escaped out to sea on a barn door and was picked up and taken to England by a French trawler. He later volunteered for the Royal Air Force and became a bomb aimer. He completed 23 operations with 50 Squadron from RAF Skellingthorpe but was shot down by a fighter on his 24th operation. He managed to bail out before the aircraft exploded. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III. He discusses the diary he kept during his time as a prisoner of war.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-10-05

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:42:32 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ARutherfordL151005

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

DE: So, this is an interview with Les Rutherford at Riseholme Hall. It is the 5th of October 2015. My name is Dan Ellin and this is an interview for the International Bomber Command Digital Archive. So, Les, you were telling me just now about how you came to be the owner of that. That book.
LR: Yes. The, the book originally came in the Canadian Red Cross parcels to be given to Canadians and the Canadian in the next room to me wasn’t interested in having it really. So, the currency, or one of the currencies in the prison camp was the chocolate bars that we got in the Red Cross parcels and he said he would sell it to me for three chocolate bars. Which, so, I gave him three chocolate bars for it. Quite expensive I would say in those, in those circumstances but it was well worth it in the long run. And so, I started this diary.
DE: Why did you want to have a diary?
LR: I thought it was a good thing to keep a record of what I was doing for future reference. And, of course, I had to start it. I’d been in the prison camp for two or three months then so I had to put the original part of it, the early part from memory but then I was able to record it day by day. Or when anything happened. Days where nothing happened of course. The boring days.
DE: Could you tell me a little bit about how you came to be in the POW camp?
LR: Well, I was flying on a mission to Frankfurt. It was my twenty fourth mission and a night fighter attacked us. We were shot down. He made three attacks and set the plane on fire. The pilot gave the order to abandon the aircraft and as he gave that order I began to put my parachute on, which was a breast tag parachute. Portable parachute. And at that time the aircraft blew up and the nose of the aircraft where I was — I was a bomb aimer — I was in the nose of the aircraft — was blown off completely. And I found myself — I was unconscious for a short while but it couldn’t have been very long because I came to and I found my leg was trapped a bit and I was having difficulty freeing it. I didn’t know how far I’d fallen. So, I pulled the parachute rip cord and the parachute pulled me out. I was on the parachute for a very short while before I landed so I always think that if I hadn’t done that I might have been too late. But then I buried my parachute and flying suit, the harness, the parachute’s harness and things under some bushes. And I landed in a wood, in actual fact, and then I made my way out of there and I walked as best I could. My leg was a bit damaged. I kept, it kept giving away under me but I walked most of that night and in the morning, as it was beginning to get light, I found myself in a large village and people were going to work in this village and passing me and saying good morning as they went past. ‘Guten morgen.’ So, I was just answering, ‘Morgen,’ and went on. Eventually — I was in flying gear, flying kit, you know — battle dress and everything. So, they just didn’t take any notice. Just heads down and going off to work sort of thing. And then I managed to get out of there and found myself on a river. On the banks of a big river. So, there was some bushes on this river and I hid. I hid up in the bushes and stayed all that day hiding in these bushes. Then, at night, I started walking again and I’d gone for quite a while and I was out in the open road and then all of a sudden I heard somebody shout, ‘Halt.’ And so, I thought I’ll try the old ‘morgen,’ trick so I just turned around and said, ‘morgen,’ and walked on. But it didn’t work. I think three soldiers, three as I remember and they came on and one of them shone a torch up and down and another one said, ‘Englisher flieger.’ Of course, the rifles came off the shoulders and my hands went up and that was it. I was a prisoner of war then. They took me to the headquarters, their headquarters and sat me at the table. I was sat on this stool at this table and this officer came up, in and he was questioning me or trying to question me, in very poor English. So, I was able to say I couldn’t able to understand him. You know, I couldn’t answer him. But then all of a sudden, I got this almighty clout to the side of the head. Knocked me off the stool onto the floor. And this German, German NCO said, ‘You stand up when you talk to a German officer.’ And I stood up and that was it. And he said — there was no mistaking this man, he could speak perfect English. I found out later he’d spent a lot of time in London and, he asked me my name, number and rank and I said flying officer. He said, ‘You’re not an officer.’ So, I said, ‘Well, yes, I am,’ you know. ‘No. No.’ He said, ‘Officers wear their badges up —’ Oh, he said, ‘Where’s your badge of rank?’ I said, ‘On the shoulder.’ Which it was on the battle dress. He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘Badges of rank are worn on the sleeve.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘On there. On the shoulder.’ And he said, ‘Where are your papers?’ I said, ‘I don’t have any papers.’ So, he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘When the Luftwaffe flew over Germany — over London,’ he said, ‘They took papers.’ And I said, ‘Well I’m not in the Luftwaffe.’ I said, ‘I’m in the Royal Air Force.’ And he — I said, ‘What I have got are my identity disks.’ You know we had two identity disks which we wore around our necks. And he looked at those and they were stamped on the back, ‘Officer’ and he said, ‘Oh, you are an officer.’ So I said, ‘Well. Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, no doubt you’ll be hungry and thirsty.’ He said, ‘I’ll just go and get you something to eat and drink.’ And off he went and he came with a plate of black bread which was filthy stuff and a glass of lager which I often say was the best glass of lager I’ve ever had because I’d had nothing to eat or drink for a couple of days. So, he questioned me for a while and then took me to have a, took me for a wash and brush up and what not. And then the next morning I was taken to Dulag Luft. Our target for the night where I was shot down was Frankfurt and the main interrogation centre for the RAF prisoners of war was in Frankfurt. Dulag Luft. And I was taken there and put in solitary confinement. Now, while I was there, after a couple of days, there was a chap came to see me. He said, ‘I’m from the Red Cross.’ I said, ‘Oh. Great.’ He said, ‘We want to get some information from you about — you know, so I can tell your relatives that you’re safe and sound.’ So, I thought that was fair enough. So, then he started to ask me about my name and number and what not and then he started on to, ‘What aircraft were you flying?’ ‘Which airfield were you at?’ ‘Who was your commanding officer?’ And things like this. And I said, ‘I can’t tell you that.’ In actual fact he wasn’t from the Red Cross at all. And so, then, after a few days — I was shot down on the 20th of December which was just before Christmas. Now, normally they put prisoners in solitary confinement for at least a week. Sometimes two weeks. And if you’ve been in solitary confinement for that length of time — it’s psychological really — you want to talk your head off when you come out. And this was the idea of course. But they took us out, took, well took me out of there and a lot more that they had there the day before Christmas. Christmas Eve they took us out. We were interrogated in the meantime and by proper bone fide, well fide German officers and that was quite an experience because one of the things they said to me — they said, ‘Well, there’s no harm in telling us what, you know, all about yourself,’ he said, ‘Because we know all about you anyway.’ So, I said, ‘Well, if you know all about me you know who I, you know, who I am.’ ‘Well, of course, you might be a spy,’ they said. I said, ‘Again, if you know all about me you know I’m not a spy.’ And they said, ‘Well, tell me, how did flight lieutenant,’ oh dear. I can’t remember his name now. Anyway, ‘How is he enjoying his squadron leadership?’ Well, this man had been promoted to squadron leader from flight commander the day before I was shot down and they knew about it which is a bit — shakes you a bit. You know. And you get — well they do know. Anyway, the rest of it went all right and they let us out all together in a big room. Something about the size of this and of course we all start talking straightaway until somebody said, ‘You know, this place might be set up for microphones.’ And so we stopped telling each other where we from and everything like that. And eventually we spent Christmas Day there and then early January, or late December actually we were taken on cattle trucks, on cattle trucks on the railway to Stalag Luft III which was on the Polish border. And so, I began life as a prisoner of war.
DE: And it was there that you were, after, after several weeks —
LR: Oh for several weeks.
DE: Purchased the diary.
LR: We had Red Cross parcels. There were Red Cross parcels supposed to be, serve one man for a week. We were getting them in not very regular periods and it was one parcel to two men. And later in the war when supplies were getting strict and not very regular it was one parcel to about three men and then it got to four and then [laughs] it got to none at all. But when I was shot down, when I was first in the prison camp after about oh, a couple of months, I should think, the Canadians received these logbooks in their Red Cross parcels which, this chap in the next room to me, he wasn’t interested in his log book at all and I decided to buy it from him. The currency in those days was chocolate bars and I gave him three chocolate bars for this log book. And so I started to keep a diary.
DE: Could you perhaps open it up and talk us through some of the pages?
LR: Yeah. Yes.
[pages turning]
LR: That was pages. It shows a flightless parrot. A coat of arms that we made up. Flightless parrot saying, “All talk and no fly.”
DE: Who — who drew those?
LR: Prisoners of war. Well, I copied that. It was — it was — I don’t know who the original artist was but I copied it as a start of the –
DE: Is that the first thing in the book?
LR: The first thing was the Sagan which is where Stulag Luft III was. It’s their coat of arms. I don’t know where I got that from. I didn’t know. I must have copied it.
DE: Did you copy or draw these things actually in the camp?
LR: Yes. Oh yes. Yes. I didn’t touch this book after I came home. That was PO Prune who always did everything wrong in the air force manuals. We had special information manuals and had this PO Prune and he was a well-known character.
DE: So was that drawn from memory?
LR: That was. Yes. Yes. This one is, shows Donald Duck behind bars saying underneath, entitled, ‘I wanted wings.’ And then these were black and — black and white. They’re pencil drawings. We weren’t allowed ink. Pencil drawings. And that was a Lancaster. And that one was a Halifax. That was a Wellington. And that was those three. Now, this one was, the goons were guards in the camp who went around looking for anybody that was doing something they shouldn’t. They would walk in to a room and then look around to see, you know, there was nothing illicit going on. And this is just a cartoon about that. This one was a cartoon about the kitchen. There was a kitchen at the end of each hut and you were allocated so long to do any cooking that you wanted to do over the food that we got and, in that time, you had to get that food ready. Ready or not it was, when your time was up you were out and that was it.
DE: So how many, how many people did you have to cater for in that? In that kitchen?
LR: In the kitchen? Well at first there was — how many? About twelve of us I think in the room and there were [pause] I’ve got it down here somewhere. Or I thought I had. Oh dear. And they were, I think two, four, six, eight. About eight rooms. So, there’d be ninety six, a hundred men in a hut and, as I say, you were allowed so much, so much time in the kitchen and that was it for a meal.
DE: And what sort of food was it? You say you had Red Cross parcels. What did you get in them?
LR: Well, we got things like spam. Tinned meat. Biscuits and tinned milk or powdered milk. Basic things like that. So, at Christmas time — we got special parcels at Christmas. This one was showing a fed-up German guard at the top and another man digging a tunnel. Which was —
DE: Did the goons come and look at your book?
LR: I don’t know. There was always the fear that they would. Well, not the fear but that was why we tried not to put anything in it that would, sort of, get their attention. At the end, when the Russians were advancing and when the, when the second front started we had maps. We drew some maps in but they were right at the end of the thing and we thought, well I thought, we’d get away with it if we did but we weren’t supposed to have. And there was always that thing that, you see, every now and then we had what they called appell in the morning which was a roll call. And we used to parade out on the, outside every hut. They would count us up to see everything was in order. Now, every now and then they would keep the men out, seal the hut up and then go through it and search everything. The German guards would search right through the hut and that was when they could possibly have looked at this. I don’t know whether they did or not.
DE: Did you keep it hidden?
LR: Sorry?
DE: Did you hide it?
LR: No. No. I just put it in the bed.
DE: I just wondered what they would think if they saw that cartoon on the previous page.
LR: Oh, they were, they were quite open minded about that sort of thing. We used to — we had concerts in the theatre. The [musical?] theatre. We had concerts in the theatre and we’d do skits mimicking the fuehrer and German officers and that and they used to attend these concerts and they used to laugh along with the rest of us. So, the theatre was quite a thing actually. There was a chap that was, there was a chap from our squadron — another plane from our squadron was shot down the same night as I was and the navigator of that plane and myself we knew each other on the squadron and became quite good friends. He was a master carpenter. And the Germans said, ‘There’s one empty hut there. If you want to make that into a theatre or something like that you can do.’ And this chap, apparently, we had the Red Cross parcels used to come in plywood boxes. You know. Tea chests. The old tea chests. They used to come in boxes like that and what he did he took the sides, took the sides off these boxes and made seats from them. And in the hut, he took the floor off and he lowered it at one end and with the soil that was taken out to lower it it made it higher at the other end so we had a sloping auditorium. And then he did all these seats and at the other end made a stage with exits and what not on each side. And it was quite, you know, a wonderful job really. And it took quite a while but of course he was working at, working at it all day. Nothing else to do. As I said he did a wonderful job.
DE: You haven’t talked about that page.
LR: This page? Oh, another chap did that for me. That’s a German film actress. And I asked him to put something in the book for me and he was the other guitarist in the band. There were two guitarists. Me and this chap. And he wrote that in. Or drew that. That is a poem called “Bomber Command” and this is the, “Lie in the dark and listen,” by Noel Coward. So, I had that but I did the illustrations around the sides of the various things. And, as I say, that was, it was read out at the, at the, the do on Friday.
DE: The opening memorial.
LR: The Memorial do. Yeah.
DE: So, did you have to write that poem down from memory or was it —? Did you —
LR: No. No. Somebody already had it. Had it written down. And they loaned it to me so I could copy it. And that was a chap that was shot down on Mustangs. Fighter pilot. And he drew that with apologies to my former, former drawings that I did. He did one like that to copy them. That was a drawing of the Tyne bridge. Being a Geordie that was a bit nostalgic. That was a Canadian. I drew that and as a matter of fact the [Barger?] girls who used to be very popular during the war and I drew that. And then a Canadian, who came to our room later on, he asked me to do another one. He said, ‘Could you put one of those —do that again in my logbook?’ And, he said, ‘But this time make her topless.’ [laughs] So I did. And that was another one by somebody else. It shows hunter dogs. It’s entitled, “The Kriegies on the loose.” Kriegie was short for Kriegsgefangener. Prisoner of war, in German.
DE: How did you decide what to put on each page? Or —
LR: Sorry?
DE: How did you decide what to put on each page? Some have been done by other people.
LR: Oh, just asked them to put a — you know. Get a blank page and asked them to put something on it. To draw something. This was, that one was drawn, “No rest for the devil,” and there’s somebody clearing a table. And that was done by the chap I was telling you about. The chap that built the theatre. This one was a parody on the poem “If” — If you can, by Rudyard Kipling and it was about escaping. You know, “If you can leave the compound undetected and clear your way. Clear your tracks nor leave the slightest trace and follow out the programme you selected you will lose your grasp or distance, time and place,” and it goes on to describe — “if you can do this,” you know, “Then you’ll reach home.” That was a drawing, a pencil drawing by somebody else. Somebody else did that one. Another chap. Oh, that one was — I did that I sort of designed and drew that in water colours and it was in memory of the — those men that were shot after escaping. The Great Escape. And I drew that in memory. There’s all their names in there.
DE: Were you —
LR: When that, when that happened [pause] we heard about it before the German guards did. We knew about it then. And we used to talk to the German guards and barter with them for, you know, a cigarette would get you, perhaps, one egg or something like that. You know. Barter. And when we heard about it we said, ‘Well that’s it. No more friendliness with the Germans. Cut them out.’ And the Germans couldn’t understand this. They asked, you know, ‘Why aren’t you talking to us?’ What was wrong? And eventually we told them what was wrong. And they wouldn’t believe us. They didn’t know about it. They wouldn’t believe us. They said, ‘Oh no. No. We wouldn’t do such a thing.’ And they were absolutely horrified when they found out it was true. So, mind you, the guards themselves, they were — not the goons, the goons were, or ferrets we used to call them as well. The ferrets, they went around looking for trouble. But the guards themselves — they were more or less the equivalent of our Home Guard. People who were too old for active service or medically unfit for active service so they put them on as prisoner of war guards. That was the squadron crest. 50 Squadron crest. That cost me a fiver that one did because on the crest actually there’s a cloak with a sword and it shows the sword cutting the cloak and I put it the other way around. The sword resting on the cloak. So I drew it from memory and I got it wrong and a chap, another chap said, ‘That’s, that is wrong,’ He said, ‘It should be cutting.’ So I said, ‘No. No. No.’ He said, ‘I bet you a fiver that’s right.’ So I had to cough up a fiver when we got back home. That was more or less a view of the camp. A sort of aerial view. From memory. That was another, another man did that for me. That was the motif that was on the front of the music stands for the band where I played because I played in the band.
DE: Yeah. You mentioned you played guitar.
LR: I played guitar. Yes.
DE: Where did —?
LR: When I got there I was — with my leg being a bit dicey I was in hospital for about three weeks. Two or three weeks. And while I was there this lad who was shot down with me told the band leader that I played piano. Now, I did but not very well. He came. The band leader came to see me and asked me if I would play in the band. I said, ‘I’m not good enough to play in the band.’ I said, ‘I do play guitar.’ So, he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, We’ve got two guitarists already.’ So he said, I said — well I said, ‘I’m not good enough to play in the band on the piano.’ So, we left it at that. And then this West Indian chap came to see me. He said, ‘I’m the other guitarist in the band,’ he said, ‘Now, I’m not interested really in the band music,’ he said, ‘I’m more calypsos and that sort of thing.’ He said, ‘If you’d like to take over the guitar for the band,’ he said, ‘I’m quite happy to hand it over to you,’ he said, ‘But I’d just like to borrow it every now and then to have a bit of a strum.’ So — and that man was, if you’ve heard of him, Cy Grant. That was Cy Grant. And every now and then we used to get together and I used to get the other guitar and we used to go off and find a quiet place and do a bit of — I would show him band rhythms and he would show me calypso rhythms and things. We exchanged that and then we’d have a bit of a sing song to ourselves but when, once we started singing or anything like that inevitably somebody would hear and there would be a gathering and then you’d get people, ‘Sing this,’ ‘Play this’ and, you know so, and it used to spoil it then. But we used to, did used to manage to get some time together.
DE: Wonderful.
LR: This was a —
DE: Can I, can I just hold you there while we pause for a minute?
[recording paused]
DE: So, we’re back recording.
LR: Back to this.
DE: Yeah.
LR: Well this page is entitled, “Prisoner of war,” and it’s by Churchill. Written when he was a prisoner of war with the Boers and I’ll read it to you. “It is a melancholy state. You are in the power of your enemies. You owe your life to his humanity. Your daily bread to his compassion. You must obey his orders. Awaiting pleasures, waiting — sorry awaiting his pleasures. Possess your soul in patience. The days are long. The hours crawl by like paralytic centipedes. Moreover, the wholesale atmosphere of prison, even the best and most regulated prisons is odious. Companions quarrel about nothing at all and you get the least possible enjoyment from each other’s company. You feel a constant humiliation at being fenced in by railings and wire watched by armed guards and webbed by a triangle of regulations and restrictions.” I think that puts it in a nutshell really. Of course, a wonderful man with words was Churchill, wasn’t he? That’s just a poem that somebody wrote about the second camp we were in. The man that did it, he was a drummer in another camp and he came to this camp and he was desperate to learn guitar and I used to show him a bit about it. He was pretty good actually. And he says, “Thanks for all the guitar gen.” That was a cartoon thing. A sort of cartoon about the march. The Long March which we did where there’s this man dragging his sledge behind him. That was a portrait done by a Polish officer. It’s supposed to be me. I don’t know. I suppose it is. And that one was a profile done by an American friend later on. And so we come to — that part of the book was finished. The photographs. They went missing some time ago when I loaned the book to somebody. Oh, this was the layout of the, the hut before there was. Oh, and this was the layout of the field. The camp. All the different huts. A garden. And yeah, the [abwor?], the toilet block and whatnot. That was the layout of the rooms. How many rooms were there? One, two, three, four, five, six. Twelve rooms. Twelve rooms. And there were about twelve in a room, I think. Was there? Fourteen. I was four out. Somebody was a bit careless and spilt ink all over it. These were various theatre groups. The band. With the membership. And the little, we used to have a swing quartet as well. Playing jazz and things. We had a tango section. And there was a classical orchestra. They used to scrape away at times, you know, with the violins. And these were all theatre productions which we did in the theatre. These were various shows that we did in the camp. We used to put these band shows on. Variety shows. Sort of, sort of Night at the Palladium type things. Some of them were very good. These were the Red Cross parcels. I told you what the Red Cross parcels had in them. Corned beef, meat gelatin, powdered eggs, Nestle’s condensed milk, margarine, sugar chocolate, biscuits, processed cheese, cocoa, salmon, jam and tea. It was quite a good selection. These were different recipes that we had. The main, one of the main topics of conversation we had in the camp was food because we were always hungry. And we used to tell with our mouths drooling over what we used to —favourite foods and recipes for making them and things. That’s another one that went missing. What we had for Christmas dinner. Well, is this a start of the — oh that’s, “A typical day at [Bolerea?]. [Bolerea] incidentally, was the name of the camp I was in. Stalag Luft III. When, when we went there I think we the first batch of new prisoners in that camp. They had taken some from the Stalag Luft III. It was part of Stalag Luft III. We could take some from the other camps to get it ready for us going in. For the new batch of prisoners going in. So we were one of the first lots in there. It was, as I say, it was a new camp.
DE: So, what was a typical day like?
LR: Where are we? It went back a bit didn’t it? [turning pages].
DE: I think it’s later on than that. I think you’re going the wrong way.
[pause — pages turning]
LR: Lost it. Sorry about this.
DE: That’s alright.
[pause]
DE: Perhaps you could tell me from your memory.
LR: Well, here it is. A typical day. 9am — get the, there was an issue of hot water for washing. 10am — appell. That was the parade. Go on parade. 2.30 — hot water issued again for tea and drinks. 4 o’clock — the afternoon count. The afternoon appell. 7 o’clock evening period. Dinner prepared and usually consists of potatoes and whatever vegetables the goons gave us. And with corned beef or anything else that we had to go with it. 10 o’clock was time for lights out. And I’m thinking down. Oh 12 o’clock was lights out. 10 o’clock was time on the stove to boil the water for a hot drink at night. And that was about the day. Nothing much. In between times I was lucky in as much as playing the guitar and being in the band — it kept me occupied. So that was, we were always arranging music and we got a lot of arrangements from the Red Cross. American arrangements. But we used to do special arrangements and practicing of course and when the brass section were doing the practice they did it on their own but they needed some rhythm so I had to go along and accompany them. And the same happened when it was the saxophonist’s section. You know. Used to go along and give them some rythmn to help them along. So that was all going, as I say, filling your time in. I was lucky with that. That was a review of Luckenwald. That was that drawing by Bill Reid. The VC. He did that drawing for me. He was in the room next to me. We became good friends. I don’t know when this started. This was the diary. This was just little thumbnail sketches about life in the camp.
DE: Can you talk me through some of those little —
LR: Pardon?
DE: Can you talk me through some of the little sketches?
LR: Tell?
DE: Can you talk, yeah. Can you talk about some of those ones?
LR: This one is two chaps walking around. We used to have the — we used to walk around the perimeter track for exercise. This was somebody playing netball which we did quite a lot of. That was one of the group captains. What’s he doing? Somebody else walking. This was when the water was up you were running to get the water. And then somebody’s done something wrong. Being sent to the cooler. This was Boleria air. Every now and then the — the toilets were open, just pits dug in the ground with quite big actually, it would be quite a lot of cubicles. Well not cubicles but divisions in it and every now and then they brought this great big tanker around and emptied it and it used to smell quite a bit. And somebody playing a game of soccer. Yeah. That was somebody with a peg on their nose when the abwor, as we called it, was being emptied. Somebody’s sitting in a tub having a bath. And then sweet dreams. Somebody climbing in there and dreaming. That’s washing up time. Half a man. He’s saying, “I’m only half the man I was. Ruddy half parcels.” And this is the new arrivals. See. Everyone used to crowd around the new arrivals and then it was question time after that. Asking them what was going on back at home and everything like that.
DE: Oh. So, they were, they were a link to, to home.
LR: yeah. But instead of getting it from the Germans. Course we had, we did have a radio and we used to assemble this radio every night for the 6 o’clock, BBC 6 o’clock news. And there’s a story to tell about that. You know, I said we used to barter with the Germans. Well, this radio was taken to pieces after the broadcast and distributed among different men. So, if a part was discovered it was just a part and, but there was one part went wrong one time. It was a balance in those days. I think it was a valve or something like that. Something important. So we said to one of the goons, ‘Would you,’ you know, ‘Bring this in?’ See. ‘Oh no. Too risky that is.’ Now, if a goon discovered something important like a tunnel he was given instant promotion and a week’s leave. So, we had started a tunnel but we never really got a tunnel really going at Boleria because the water was high. When we got down to a certain level we hit water. So, what we did, we took one of these that we’d started and patched it up. And we said to this goon if you tell us — if you bring that part in we will show you where there’s a tunnel. And of course his eyes lit up. Oh, a tunnel. Yah. Yah. You know. So, he brought the part in and we showed him the tunnel. He brought the commandant in. Went and informed the commandant. The commandant donned a pair of white overalls and came around to inspect the tunnel for himself. Came around all smiles. ‘Oh, you can’t fool us,’ you know. And the goon got his week’s leave and we got the valve. So, everybody was happy all around [laughs] so that was that. That was just through the ages. That was night school. We were playing cards. This was the [abwor] which was the toilets again. The [abwor] serenaders. We used to go in there. One place you could go in there and you wouldn’t get a crowd in bothering you. And then this was rumours. We started at the top with, I don’t know what they’re saying but it ends up as something entirely different. Rumours. Rumours. Rumours. We got those a lot. This was a letter from the camp commandant. Our SBO — the Senior British Officer to the Germans — to the Russians. When the Russians released us, they didn’t actually release us. The kept us still as prisoners. They let us walk a certain distance around the camp to the south end and west. South and west. And the other sides were too dangerous to go in but they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t let us be repatriated. They kept us prisoners. We were still. We were freed on — early in April. In April. In April. And we were freed the last week in May and in that time they still held us, more or less, as prisoners. We listened to the VE day celebrations in England on the radios and we weren’t very happy. And the Americans got to know that there was all these prisoners there so they sent a convoy of lorries to the camp to take us out and the Russians wouldn’t let us go. And some of the lads sort of ignored them and went to get on to the lorries and the Russians fired over their heads and made them come back and the lorries went away empty. So, it wasn’t very, it wasn’t very, it wasn’t a very good situation actually. And this was a letter that the senior British officer wrote to the Russians complaining about this treatment which I copied out. It’s a long letter so I won’t read it. But, in effect, he’s telling them that it was disgraceful that the treatment we were receiving was not anything like the treatment they had promised. But when they released us they promised us all sort of things and I think the only thing we got was a couple of radios. But we were going to get food and goodness knows what and we didn’t. So that passed by. Oh, this was, oh this was the start of the diary and as I said the first parts of it were written more or less by — from memory.
[pause — pages turning]
LR: March the 22nd I left the hospital. Which was in 1944. March the 29th we did our first band show. And then there was all the different shows that were put on. Things like that. But then [pause] there was, we put on a show at Christmas, the band did. And they did it on Christmas Eve. The first show, I think it was. And then we were doing the show during the week at odd times. And then we were having the show altogether where we wanted to invite our friends from the camp to the show and celebrate the New Year while the Germans allowed us to stop out that night. And the senior British officer came around and said, ‘Well, no,’ he said, ‘We’re not going to do that but what we’ll do, we are inviting all the senior officers to that and the Germans as well to the band show to celebrate New Year’s Eve. So, people in the band went on strike. We said, ‘No. We’re not going to do it.’ And at the finish we had to compromise. We had our friends and a few of the senior officers. So we went on strike. And then we began to hear the Russians. Just a minute. Oh, first of all we started getting refugees in. We got refugees coming in to the camp. And we woke up one morning — now, the huts at this particular camp — oh we did all the Long March first. At the end of December we could hear the Russian guns. We could hear the, all these guns going off, you know, all the — and the Germans decided to move us and we left the camp and marched for a week. We were lucky in our march in as much as we only did it for a week. In some of the other camps which were further away they did about three or four weeks, some of them. They really suffered. We suffered up to a point but nothing like them. And it was in the dead of winter of course. It was snow, ice, whatnot. It was, and it wasn’t very good because we were in no fit condition for marching anyway and we just, and at night we were sleeping down just where we could. Barns and places like that. And we eventually got to this, to Spremberg which was a rail junction and they put us on these cattle trucks there to go to the new camp. They used to pack us in these cattle trucks you know, so you really — you’d have a job to lie down sometimes. But the whole problem was that some of the lads had dysentery and they just couldn’t do anything about it. [They sat and did it?] where they were, you know. Which was not very nice. So, we had a day or more of that before we arrived at this other camp. And as I said we hadn’t been there all that long when the refugees started to arrive. Now, these huts — they were long huts and divided into two. The middle portion was [pause] there was a big concrete bowl with taps all the way around it. That was where we did the ablutions. So Fred and I got up in the morning ready to go. Off we went to do our ablutions. When we got there there were several women there. All semi naked having a good wash down and whatnot. You know. So, we sort of looked. What’s going on? We didn’t know about them. They had arrived in the night and it sort of shook for us a bit. Hadn’t seen a woman in a year and a half in my case. And, anyway, so after that we went off to the toilets. Or I went off to the toilets and the toilet block they had either three or four seats on one side and then three or four other seats on the other side facing them. No partitions or anything like that and I just got nicely sat down and a couple of women came in. No problem she said. Up with their skirts and sat down opposite us. We sort of looked, you know. There was another chap and myself in there who were looking at them and we daren’t move. And they eventually got up and went off and so did we. In a hurry. But It was something we had to get used to these women were just, had no inhibitions at all. They just went along with it. And then after the Russians released us one other incident was rather funny. Next to the camp there was a big park and there was a park lake and we were allowed in this park up to a point and we decided to go swimming in the lake. Half a dozen or so of us in the lake. So, we went in there. Stripped off and into the lake and had a swim. While we were swimming we heard a boom. You know. What the hell was that? We looked around. And then there was another one. And when we looked over there was some women soldiers. Russian women soldiers throwing grenades in to the water. So, I often say there were some swimming records [laughs] broken that day. We — and then of course we all scrambled out, run along the bank absolutely starkers. The women on the other bank, the Russian soldiers, laughing and jeering at us. So, we didn’t go swimming again [laughs] and that nearly gets us to the end of this, I think. Oh, we had this trouble with the Russians of course and when they eventually decided we could go the American convoy, the Americans were nearest to us. The American convoy came and took us over, took us to the river. I think to the river Elbe. Took us to the river. To the bridge. We got out of their lorries and walked over the bridge and on to American lorries and they took us to this aerodrome. It wasn’t active in as much as it wasn’t wartime active but they were ferrying prisoners out from there back home. And we had to take our turn of course. We were there about a week. But the first thing we did — we got over there and they took us into the mess hall. We had white bread. Oh heaven. White bread. Peanut butter. Bacon, eggs and everything you wanted. It was a wonderland for us of course. And we were warned, you know, ‘Don’t eat too much. Your stomach’s are not up to it’. So, we had to be careful. And they had film shows and anything we wanted while we were there. And then eventually we were taken aboard a Dakota and flown to Brussels. From Brussels — we landed in Brussels and it was oh late afternoon. They said, ‘Those of you who want to spend the night here and we will issue you with money. You can go into town and do what you like.’ If the others don’t want to do that there are some Lincoln bombers on the aerodome going back to England. You can go back with them. And so, we did. I decided to go back and the [pause] ‘cause I knew my mother was seriously ill. She’d been seriously ill for a long time so I wanted to go back. And we made a mad scramble for it. The first thing I did was make a bolt for the mid-upper turret. Of course in there you could look out all around and you could see what was going on. I got there at the same time as Bill Reid. It was a case of looking at one another, ‘Who’s going up?’ ‘Who is it?’ ‘You or me?’ So Bill said, ‘I think there’s room.’ They’d taken out the guns out of this turret. So he says, ‘There’s room up there for two of us. We can both get up.’ And we did. Both squeezed in to the mid-upper turret and flew back to England. Now, in England we wondered what the general feeling, this was a true feeling of prisoners about what sort of a welcome we were going to get when we got back home. Because there had been several Dear John letters about people. One letter in particular said, this girl writing to her fiancé said, “I’m getting married. I’d rather marry a 1945 hero than a 1943 coward.” So, and there was one or two letters in the same vein. There was some comical ones. I’ve got them written in here somewhere. Some comical letters but there was some in that serious vein. So it made us wonder now what will people think when we get home. So we got off the Lincoln bomber at this airfield. I’m not quite sure where it was. It was somewhere in Oxfordshire I think. We got out at it anyway and on the tarmac a crowd of WAAF and we all walked off, down to the, into the mess hall with a WAAF on each arm and [unclear] and they took us in. We were fed and deloused. You know. They put a tube down inside the tunic and dusted powder in for delousing. Not that, I don’t think we needed it but there you are. They did it. And then in the main mess hall there was, there’d been a dance going on and the band were all packing up their gear. And somebody told them about us so they set up again and played for another hour so that the lads could have a dance with the girls. So the welcome sort of reassured us. We thought, well, that’s something fine. And so, from there we was sent home. After interrogation. And that was it. And that’s — my diary ends. I think, with May the 26th my diary ends. That was, after that I didn’t put anything else in. And that was when we boarded the plane to come back to England.
DE: And did you go and get up — get up —
LR: Pardon?
DE: And were you then able to go home and see —?
LR: Yes. They sent us. One of the things that I shall never forget was we all, we were all different places of course. We had to queue in a hut to get our passes. The rail passes to get home and there was a chap in this little sort of cubicle and he was sat there. And people were saying — he was giving the passes saying, ‘Where are you going?’ And he was telling them you want such and such a train from here. You change at Birmingham or wherever and then you catch the next train. And he had all this at his fingertips. He never once looking at a timetable. And all they were all going to different places. He said to me, he said, oh if you get the train to, I think it was, I think it was Birmingham and then up to Carlisle. That was a route I’d never taken home. I always used to go up on the East Coast line. He said, ‘You go up to Carlisle and across from there to Newcastle,’ he said. And that was that. Went. No problem. As I say, he never even looked at a timetable. It was absolutely wonderful. And so, I got home. And I didn’t have time to send a telegram or anything like that. They didn’t know I was coming home. On the way home — no. Wait a minute, that wasn’t that. That was the demob when I did that. ‘Cause I went home from Oxford. Went home from Oxford and I did the East Coast line then. At that time. No, I’m mistaken there. The one when I got home was from Oxford and we were given passes. Always, when I went home if I was coming from this area I used to stop off at York. I had an aunt and uncle in York. My aunt was — she was a pastry chef at the De Grey rooms in York which were, at that time, famous. A big centre, reception centre and that sort of thing. And I used to go in by the back doors and down into the kitchens and she would have a meal on the table before I’d hardly sat down. And this time I called in again to see her on the way up and tell her I was back home. And she said, ‘Have you had any letters from home recently?’ So, I said, ‘No. I haven’t had any since the middle of the year.’ I said, ‘there was no letters came through.’ They were always blocked. ‘Oh, you don’t know then.’ So, I knew what it was. My mother had died. And so, I went home prepared for that as it happens. Well, when I got home. Sort of went to the front door, knocked on the front door because I didn’t have the key. They let me in. ‘God, what are you doing home? We got it all arranged.’ They’d got it all arranged. They’d got the horse and cart all decorated to meet me at the station when I got home. And I foiled that and I was thankful for it as well. I said, ‘Thank God for that.’ So that was it. That was my war.
DE: Wonderful. Thank you ever so much. I’m just looking to see if there’s any notes that I’ve made. Were you in the camp when the Great Escape people got out?
LR: Yes. But it was a different compound.
DE: Oh. I see.
LR: Not my compound.
DE: I see.
LR: Not the one I was in but a different compound. It was the north compound I think. And we heard about it the next day. The shooting. I don’t know how it got out but there was a wonderful telegraph system between the camps. Between one and the others. And as I said the Germans wouldn’t believe it when we stopped speaking to them.
DE: Did you ever consider escaping?
LR: Yes. We all considered escaping. What we would do. But of course, you had to have, you had to be able to speak German and [pause] not necessarily but you had to be specially equipped and everything. And, well, the occasion never, in our camp the occasion never arose because tunnels, we couldn’t build a tunnel because of the water level. So, although we always said, you know the first chance we got — the only chance we got was on the Long March really and, but we were in no fit state then for escaping. I think some people did go. But no. Anything to get out, out from the wire. We gave our parole up to go for walks. The Germans said if we give our parole they would take us for walks around, you know, outside. Under guard of course. And so we did of course. We gave up parole and then we’d done about two walks and then on the third one, I think it was the third one, one of the chaps left a note in the barrack block saying he was going to commit suicide while he was on this walk. Somehow. Going to. I don’t know how he was going to do it. And, of course, it was a panic. We were all hustled back in to the camp again and they never give, never give us another chance. So that was that.
DE: The other thing I think I’ve got jotted down here. I think you mentioned it when we’d paused it for the, for the camera. About getting your identity papers from, from the Germans.
LR: When the, we woke up one morning and the guards had all left. The Germans had gone completely and so we went, of course into the German quarters. We all stormed in there and had a look around and whatnot. Then we came across, and the officers came across these files with all the identity discs, papers in. A big card with all the details and a photograph. A photograph taken when we were shot down and all the details of what went on. And I had that at home in my logbook but somebody took it. Somebody borrowed the logbook and they’ve took that. I lost it anyway. Unfortunately. I would have liked to have kept that. But that’s reminded me of another incident actually. Saying about waking up and the guards had gone. Earlier in the year while I was at Stalag Luft III I woke up one morning and somebody came charging in to the room. ‘Oi you want to get out here. They’ve got British soldiers in all the sentry boxes and the Union Jack flying in the [forelager?],’ which was the German side. I said, you know, ‘It can’t be.’ And we went out and sure enough the British tommies all dressed up in the German, in the sentry boxes so, you know. So talking, you know, ‘Hey where are you from? ‘What are you doing?’ Nothing. Just sort of stony look sort of thing. And then there was a camera crew rolled up and they were filming this shot and what they were doing — they had a German dressed up as a sergeant in the army with a bandage around his head. In the German army with a bandage around his head and they were taking them. There was British soldiers of course — they were dressed as British soldiers. They brought them to the camp gates and sort of kicked them through the gate and we all stood there and we all laughed and cheered [laughs] and so they had to shoot it again. And the same thing happened again. They shoved him again and we all cheered. So, they decided to shove us all in the huts. We were in a big hut facing this, where this was taking place so we were shut in this hut and posted great big Vs on the windows and stood behind them with our thumbs up, you know. I don’t think they noticed after that because they got up. They didn’t do any more takes after that. Yeah.
DE: Fascinating.
LR: [unclear] a bit.
DE: I think that absolutely marvellous. Thank you, Les.
LR: That’s alright. How’s the time going?
DE: We’ve been going for about an hour and a quarter, so — that’s wonderful. How — how much do you think England had changed while you had been away?
LR: Not a lot.
DE: No. Still felt like home.
LR: My circumstances had changed [pause] because before the war I used to live with my grandmother who owned the general dealer’s shop, and a very good dealer’s shop. On the entrance to the big shipyards in Wallsend near Newcastle. She died in 1932 and left the business to my mother who had not much idea of running a business but I’d been helping in the shop at the time. I was fourteen years old at the time and I’d been helping in the shop. My mother set me up to look after the shop while everything was going on with the funeral and everything like that and then when it was all over she kept me there because in the meantime I’d left school. So, she kept me there and from then on running the business was what I did. I did all the buying and selling. Everything. All she did was signed the cheques and what not. And then came the war. And mother said, ‘Well,’ you know, ‘I shall have to come in.’ She came in to the shop I had to put her right on prices and everything before I went and she said, ‘After the war,’ she said, ‘I shall turn the business over to you and you will arrange a pension for me to retire.’ And so that was arranged. In the meantime, during the war, in 1944 she died of cancer. The executors of the will were two supposed friends of the family and they absolutely fleeced everything in this shop. We had points, you know, there was a points system and they’d taken, they’d used all the things like butter and cooked meats and things like that. Chocolates and things like that and sort of taken them among their friends and what not. Given them all free butter and what not, you know and in actual fact when I got back the business was bankrupt. So, I had to find a job then. I put a lot of my own money. When I got back, of course, when I got back I got a good amount of back pay. I put a good lot of that in to paying my debts and then the business had to be sold. And I had to look for a job then. Well, I had no experience. I mean, nobody wanted air force gunners, navigators, bomb aimers. So I had a look around and of course the only experience I’d had was in the shop which was nothing at all. So, I tried my hand as a representative at a fancy goods firm. I didn’t get on with that at all. So, then I took another job as a representative for United Dominions Trust. Commercial bankers. Covering just Lincolnshire. The previous job I covered the whole of the south of England. With the bank, with this other job I was at home all the time. And then I’d just got nicely settled in to that when they decided they were going to move me down the south coast to Worthing. And I said. ‘I don’t want to go to Worthing.’ And they said, well they called me to head office. In this big meeting. All the directors were there and they said, ‘You have to go. We said you’re going.’ And I said, ‘No.’ You know. I said. ‘When I was in the forces,’ I said, ‘I was told where I had to go and where I hadn’t to go.’ I said, ‘Now I’m a civilian,’ I said, ‘I decide where I want to go. Nobody else.’ And they said, ‘Well, it’s a case of go or resign.’ So, I said, ‘Well I’ll resign then.’ And the chief clerk came with me, out of the room, to take me out and he said, ‘I should give it another thought if I were you,’ he said, because, he says, ‘There is no way they are going to keep you in Lincolnshire.’ He said, ‘One of the director’s son has just come out of the army and they want Lincolnshire for him because it’s an up and coming place.’ At that time there wasn’t a lot but there was plenty of scope for business and they wanted the job for him. So, I said, ‘Right,’ I said, ‘I’m not having it.’ So, I resigned and I was on the dole then for — oh I applied to go back in to the air force and they said yes, I could go back but I didn’t hear anything and I waited oh, six weeks of doing nothing. Nothing. Just on the dole and I was absolutely fed up to the teeth. And I got the offer of — they was setting people on with the engineering firm in Lincoln. I was based in Lincoln then. A big engineering firm in Lincoln who were taking people on and training them as machinists. So, I applied and got in there. And that’s where I finished up. Working in a Lincoln factory. Doing a dead-end job. Fed up. Yeah. So, when I came back I got in touch with a girlfriend that I had and we married in 1945. And she was from Lincoln and that’s why I came down to Lincoln for the first job. As a central point. So she [pause] she died young. Forty two, I think, she was. Died very young and a year and half, two years later I met my present wife and we were married. And been happily married ever since. Very happily married.
DE: Wonderful.
LR: And that was it. and she said if she’d been my wife at the time when I came out of the air force she says I should never have gone into the [laughs] in to the factory. She would have seen to that. And knowing my present wife she would have done. And that was [the pre-war?].
DE: I see. If you’re happy to carry on. Just a couple more questions. One, you started your service life in the army and I know you have stories to tell about the Battle of France. And then you obviously transferred into the RAF. Could you tell me how that came about?
LR: I was called up in to the army in 1939. October 1939. Into the 51st Highland Division. And after initial training we went down to Aldershot. Square bashing and that sort of thing. Getting organised. And in early January we went across to France. We were stationed up in Northern France for a while. Moved across country to Alsace Lorraine and the Maginot Line. That was an experience. Used to go in to the Maginot Line when they were doing all the bombardments. If you gave the French soldiers a cigarette they would let you fire their gun [laughs] Yeah. Free and easy the French soldiers were. Too free and easy. And then we moved from there when the Germans, while we were there the Germans broke through in to the low countries and we were moved very quickly across in to the north of France to — the idea was, at the time they were trying to stop the German army so they could get the other, the rest of the forces evacuated and the 51st Highland Division was one that fought the rear-guard action so that Dunkirk could be take place. And when Dunkirk had been successfully evacuated they just left us and we were left in France. And we listened to Churchill on the radio saying all troops left in the north of France must be given up as lost. And [laughs] there we were. So, we still went on fighting. The 51st. I wasn’t involved in the fighting actually. I was a despatch rider. But then we were trapped then. Forced back and back in, forced back to a small coastal town called St Valerie. And we were surrounded on all sides by the Germans and we had the bulk of the division around in that, in that area. But further along the coast was a place called Veules les Roses and they, they were managing to get some ships in there to get troops out. So, we were obviously, we’d been bombarded all day from the air and from the Germans around about and that. The town was ablaze. That was the first time I ever heard, you know, the ricochet from a bullet. You used to see it on the Westerns, you know. The first time, the first time I heard that ricochet of bullets going from the walls. And anyway, it was obvious we were going to surrender the next morning. It got towards night time. And I asked several of the chaps, if we got together I said there was a barn door. The barn. The side of a barn had been blown up. The barn had been blown up. And if we could launch that into the water it would hold several of us and we could get out and get in to that line of ships, you see. So, we set the deadline for 10 o’clock and when it came to the 10 o’clock they wouldn’t go. So, another chap said, ‘Well I would do it. I would go.’ So, I said, ‘Well, it’s just be the two of us,’ I said, ‘There’s a big door there so we could manage that across into the water and try that.’ So, he was, ‘Right. Let’s have a go.’ So, we went. Carried the door between us down to the rocks and launched it. And as we were launching it then he informed me he couldn’t swim. So [laughs] I got him sat on the door and I thought well I’ll stop in the water and I’ll sort of act more or less as propeller rudder and so off we set. Now, where we went. We paddled and paddled all night to get out of the way at ninety degrees. Out into the water. Into the sea. And I get into this line of ships who were coming out. These ships were going directly into the harbour and then directly out again. Right out to sea before they turned to go back to England and by the time by the time it began to get light it was, St Valerie was just a smoking ruin. It was a pall of smoke on the horizon. You couldn’t see it. We were way out to sea. And sometime in the morning when it started to get light we got into the line of ships as it happened. There were two to come. There were two trawlers. French trawlers. I think they were both French. The first one threw us a life belt as they went past. So, I said thank you very much sort of thing. And the next one picked us up. This chap on the raft he couldn’t move his legs. He’d been sat cramped up there all night and they tied a rope around his waist and they hauled him up and then they hauled me up. And the first thing they did they gave me a glass hot rum. And I’d had nothing to eat for a couple of days because we were on the move all over the place and I went out like a light. I vaguely remember them cutting my boots. My gaiters and my boots. And when I came to I was in a bunk somewhere in the ship and they were shaking me and saying, ‘We’re taking you to an English ship.’ So, I said, ‘Right. Fair enough.’ So, they wrapped a blanket around me. Took me to this English ship. Put downside into this ship and on the way, I found the chap who was in charge of the life boat that took us off and I said, ‘Can you tell me what happened to my clothes?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘We didn’t bring any clothes over’. So, I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’ve only got this blanket.’ So, he says, ‘Well I don’t know,’ he said, ‘I can’t help you. I can give you a pair of socks to protect your feet.’ So, I landed at Southampton with a pair of socks and a blanket. And as it happened, good old British organisation again, they always called it but they had a warehouse on the docks and they got laid out with uniforms for people that were in similar situations. I just went out and picked out clothes and what not. Got clothes and took us back home.
DE: So, you had a close call from being —
LR: From there we were taken up to Scotland to report the division and so we just carried on duties up there and in 1941 they, there was an order came out on the part one orders a request for volunteers for air crew duties in the RAF. So, I volunteered and I was accepted. I did, I had to do education tests and health tests and all sorts of tests. I had to go down to Edinburgh for all this and came through. Was posted to Stratford on Avon where they changed us over from army to RAF with the different uniform and the different types of drill and what not. And from there to Scarborough where we were billeted in the Grand Hotel and one of the lasting things about all this was after months, well a year and a half really of sleeping on the floor we got — in Stratford upon Avon we had a bed with sheets on it. Wonderful. And the food was a lot different as well. It was a lot better. Anyway, from Stratford we went to Scarborough as I said. Did our initial training. RAF training. And then we were posted. First of all, I was posted to Florida. So, I thought oh wonderful. And then we got to the transit camp they found that they’d got two to many on the list so they took two off. There was me, Rutherford and another chap — Roberts. So they’d taken the two next to one another and took us off the course and sent us back to Scarborough. From there we were posted then to Rhodesia which is now Zimbabwe of course. Southern Rhodesia. And did our training in Rhodesia and then South Africa, in East London and then back home. And then in to Bomber Command.
DE: I see. So why did you choose to volunteer for the RAF?
LR: Well if I’d have had a choice at the beginning of the war when I was called up I’d have opted for the RAF. Of course, my brother and I were always interested. We were always, we knew all the first world war fighters and we were always interested in the RAF. Right through. And all the pre-war planes. We knew them all. And my brother, in actual fact, was in the Volunteer Reserve before the war and I thought well great, I’m going to try this. I might get in line with my brother you see. And I went home and told my mother I was volunteering for the RAF. ‘Oh great,’ she said, ‘That’s fine,’ She said, ‘You might get to go with Bill.’ My brother. I said, ‘Yeah.’ And while I was on leave I got a telegram to say he’d been killed. Well he was missing but believed killed. He was just finishing his training for the Coastal Command. He was almost finished and they crashed into the Irish Sea. He was based in Silloth. And my mother said, ‘Don’t you go in that RAF.’ So, I said, ‘No. Alright.’ [unclear] And that’s how I came to be in the RAF. The best move I’ve ever made I think.
DE: It was.
LR: As far as I was concerned. And I’ve always been proud of being in the RAF. And that was that.
DE: Ok. Why, why do you feel proud about your service in the RAF?
LR: Because of what we did. Not proud of what we did but proud of the part we played. I always feel that in some way we helped to end the war. Did our part in ending the war. I was proud to be part of that.
DE: What do you think about the way that Bomber Command has been remembered since the war?
LR: After the war Bomber Command was vilified. They called us aerial gangsters because of the bombing and what not. Killing innocent people. But that was total war. That was what it was all about. I mean let’s face it, the Germans had started it with Warsaw and then they bombed without any declaration of war or anything like that. They went in and they bomber Rotterdam and Amsterdam and all the low country places and invaded. And after that of course there was London and poor Coventry and all these places. Hull. So, I don’t know why we got the thick end. I think there was a lot of these do-gooders that said, you know, we shouldn’t have done it. But then heard nothing. There was no, sort of, anything ever said about Bomber Command. When, when the leaders of the various forces got their honours after the war they all went to the House of Lords except Sir Arthur Harris. He was Sir Arthur and that was, he stopped there. Nothing else. And as I say, after, after that, you know, later years nothing was said much about Bomber Command at all until the last three, four, five years when there’s suddenly been a sudden surge in the interest in the part that Bomber Command actually played. And I’m finding now that people are beginning to say, you know, what a good job we did. And it’s very gratifying. Very.
DE: Smashing. Thank you ever so much.
LR: It’s my pleasure.
DE: Ok. Before I press stop is there anything else that you can think of off the top of your head that you want to tell me.
LR: I think we’ve about covered everything.
DE: I’ll call that a day then. Thank you ever so much. Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Dan Ellin, “Interview with Les Rutherford. Three,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3627.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.

Can you help improve this description?